In a world full of water, finding comes before fishing. But they don’t make finders that identify the best fish finder.
This buyer’s guide and the following fish finder reviews will help you discover the finest in underwater sonar technology.
Spending precious hours looking for fish is for the birds. Whether you paddle a kayak, float on a tube, or fire up powerful outboard engines, there’s always room for a fish finder.
The question is, what’s the best fish finder that covers your needs and fits within your budget?
The answers lie within this 2018 buyer’s guide and fish finder reviews.
Best Fish Finder for Your Money Winner's Round Up
Over hours of research, pouring over specs/owner’s manuals, and reading hundreds of user reviews, we were keeping our eyes out for winners in two categories. After putting all the information together, 2 clear fish finders stand out.
Best Fish Finder - Editors' Choice
Our first category features the Editor’s Choice, and only the best overall value fish finder qualifies. The award for this category goes to the Lowrance HDS-7 Gen3 Insight. For overall performance, number of capabilities, and price, no other fish finder compares.
Best Fish Finder for The Money
The second winner we bring forward lands in the category of best fish finder for the money. Only budget fish finders qualify for this honor, and there are many to consider. In the end, the vast number of positive customer reviews gave the clear decision to the Garmin Striker 4.
Last update on 2017-12-20 at 05:56 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / Amazon Disclosure
A Buyer's Guide To The Best Fish Finder
What Are The Functions Of A Fish Finder?
There are two main components to every fish finder. You have your display unit which carries the screen and controls. Your fish finder will also have a transducer, which sends out the sonar signal or ping.
It’s easy to say that fish finders show you the location of fish in the water, but there’s much more to them than that. The features can be quite confusing if you try to absorb them all at once. Instead, read each feature one at a time for a clearer understanding of their use.
The Display Unit
Fish finder displays contain the screen and setting controls. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small enough to fix onto your fishing rod, while others take up dashboard space and require mounting.
The display unit also picks up the signal from the transducer. A strong signal from the transducer won’t make much of a difference on a poor quality screen.
Because the display is as important as the transducer, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the different options. Let’s go over them now.
This spec shows the clarity of the on screen image. Manufacturers measure resolution in pixels and give numbers for both horizontal and vertical length. We don’t recommend going any lower than 240 x 160. The image becomes too fuzzy to make sense of.
Modern fish finders move away from black & white. Color helps distinguish objects from one another. The more color schemes a fish finder has, the clearer the image will be.
Small screens may be more practical on smaller craft like kayaks or float tubes. Larger screens give a better picture, especially in multi-screen mode.
Allows you to divide your screen, showing 2 or more features at the same time. Multi-screen is more than helpful when trolling because it lets you see the map and the bottom together. Some models can show different views of the bottom while fishing.
Networking & WiFi:
It’s possible to advance your system by networking 2 or more transducers to your fish finder. You can then split the screen, seeing views from each transducer at the same time. Other models can connect transducer and display using the wifi on your smartphone.
The best fish finder displays will not only show details of the bottom and the exact depth, but also the water temperature, cruising speed, and GPS bearing. Fish alarms and navigation warnings are other features you might take interest in.
A fish finder transducer is a separate unit that mounts to your vessel. Most models mount on the outside, though “see through hull” models do exist. The transducer serves three purposes:
- It has a sounder that sends sound pings into the water.
- The transducer has a receiver to collect returning sound waves.
- Transducers relay to the display unit which translates the info into an image.
Because transducers are just as important as the display unit, it helps to learn their features.
Transducer power has a direct influence on image clarity. It’s an electrical measurement specified by watts. The more power a fish finder puts out, the deeper it can ping and still return a quality image. For best results, power supply should be a separate 12-24 volt deep cycle battery.
This number represents the amount of times per second that a transducer pings or emits a sound wave. Sonar frequency uses kiloHertz, or kHz, as the unit of measurement.
The ability of a fish finder is greatly dependent on the power and frequency of the ping sent by the transducer. Higher frequencies such as 200 kHz show a more detailed image and work well in shallow water situations.
The drawback of a high frequency ping is that it takes a lot more power to send the signal. A low frequency 50 kHz ping will travel the same distance using much less power. For this reason, lower frequencies take preference when fish go deep.
The ability to change frequency or, better yet, use more than one frequency at the same time boosts the performance of your fish finder. Manufacturers know this and build fish finders with four different frequency types.
- Single Frequency - The basic fishfinder. They work decent for shallow water applications.
- Dual Frequency - Has the ability to ping both low frequency and high frequency sound waves.
- Multi- Frequency - Comes with settings that allow you to choose from a range of frequencies.
- Broadband or CHIRP - The newest in technology uses a range of frequencies that transmit simultaneously to provide clearer pictures than ever before. CHIRP stands for Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse.
The cone sits at the end of the transducer and directs the angle of the sound beam. Narrow cones are typical in down imaging fish finders and accurately display bottom features directly below you.
Wider cones display a larger bottom area and work well for side imaging sonar. Higher quality fish finders have transducers with more than one cone. This gives them the capacity to see both straight down and off to each side.
Do Fish Finders Require Any Additional Purchases?
The honest answer to this question is that they might. Most personal craft fish finders include the transducer and mounting brackets. Some of the more expensive models require a separate purchase.
Power may also be a concern. Fish finders require a power supply in the form of a marine non-cranking battery. You may already have a deep cycle battery for a trolling motor or other use. If not, this will be an additional purchase.
Helpful Tips For Buying The Best Fish Finder
- Don’t Skimp On Power Or Display - Customers wish they had bought a better model. You’ll see this more often than any other complaint. Save yourself the cost and get the right model the first time. You’ll also save yourself the effort of a second installation.
- Know Your Needs - Don’t worry about a super powerful fish finder if you only fish shallow water lakes. However, that side imaging might make a world of difference!
- Consider Models That Allow Upgrades - You may not care to have access to thousands of maps through Navionics. Networking might not be on the table when buying your fish finder. Needs change over time and you may prefer the option to upgrade versus buying a whole new unit.
2017 Best Fish Finder Reviews
Garmin Striker 4 – Best GPS & Fish Finder Combo
The Garmin Striker 4 with built in GPS technology makes the roundup as the best fish finder for the money. For a small unit with a 3.5 inch screen, the Striker 4 packs a big punch. The transducer puts out plenty of power at 200 W RMS (1600w peak to peak) to show fish in those deeper pockets.
Using a dual CHIRP transducer, the Striker 4 pings at both 77 kHz and 200 kHz frequencies. CHIRP interprets the dual pings upon return providing a much clearer image. Garmin Striker 4 fish finders are upgradable to multi-frequency transducers, which are sold separately.
Though the Striker 4 does not offer maps, it will save GPS waypoints to return to at a later time. The small 3.5 inch screen may be the unit’s biggest drawback. On the other hand, the display doesn’t take much space and mounts easily. Anglers often purchase a small stand, enabling them to remove the Striker when not in use or transfer it to another vessel.
Because of its low cost and able performance, the Garmin Striker 4 makes a great fish finder for anglers on a budget. Beginning fishermen always have an initial investment in equipment, and the Striker 4 can help cut those costs.
Upgradable transducers offer some comfort, though you may be ready for a larger fish finder at that point. Perfect for getting a start on all but the deepest freshwater lakes, the Garmin Striker 4 holds anglers over until they’re ready for a larger fish finder.
Deeper Smart Sonar Pro + - Best Fish Finder & Smartphone Combo
Smartphones or tablets and the Deeper Smart Sonar Pro bring a new age in technology to fish finders. Attach the Deeper transducer ball to the end of your fishing line and cast it out. The ball floats like a bobber and activates once it’s in the water. Next, switch on the wifi to your smartphone or tablet and connect the two devices. Finally, log into the Deeper app and your device turns into the display.
Any initial doubts about quality of performance and power supply vanish upon closer inspection of the Deeper Smart Sonar Pro +. The unit has an internal battery that lasts up to 5.5 hours and is rechargeable. Transducer power sends signals down as far as 260 feet when set to the low 90 kHz frequency. Fishing shallow water? Switch to the high 290 kHz frequency and read fish in as little as 2 feet of water.
While the Deeper Smart Sonar Pro + works well for many fishing situations, drawbacks do exist. Try throwing the ball out into a strong current. You’ll have a taught line, misplacement, and poor readings. You will have to worry about battery life on both fish finder and smartphone when fishing for longer durations. If you cast out the ball and leave it on the line, there’s a rod out of use. I also wonder if that line might tangle when you have a fish on.
The Deeper Smart Sonar Pro + is a powerful fish finder and shows great ingenuity. It’s probably best not to fish when it’s in the water, unless you can figure a way to keep battling fish away from that line. I don’t like the idea of casting it out with a detachable clip. You may never get it back. Have a friend to reel it in or use the Deeper Smart Sonar Pro + to study an area before you fish. Perfect for kayak, boat, float tube, or shore applications.
Raymarine Dragonfly 5 – Top Dual Channel Display
The Dragonfly 5 is the more affordable option between two Raymarine fish finders on our list. Going away from smaller size displays, the Dragonfly 5 offers a five inch screen with plenty of features.
A dual CHIRP transducer pings a wide range spectrum of frequencies through its Downvision feature, showing picture like details to 600 feet. The dual feature of the transducer refers to a second cone that pings sonar to give the traditional view of fish. Fishermen can easily switch screens between the two views or see them both with the split screen option.
Dragonfly 5 fish finders connect to your wireless smartphone where you can record everything it reveals. Share or study the information back at home. They also offer Navionics which allow you to create your own maps. Charts are also available for upload through Jeppesen C Map or Raymarine Lighthouse Charts.
The display uses a ball mount and detaches for storage, but the transducer cord is way too long for kayak use. It will definitely be in the way and is hard wired. Satellite connection is instant, but does have reports of an intermittent signal.
The overall value of the Raymarine Dragonfly 5 is enormous when you compare it to the price. It doesn’t fit smaller watercraft, and is probably best kept to the various styles of fishing boats. The clarity of image, larger 5 inch screen, and the split screen views from dual CHIRP cones make the Dragonfly 5 a best selling fish finder.
Signstek FF-003 Portable Fish Finder – Best Portable Fish Finder With Multi Level Depth
You might encounter situations when you prefer to leave your main fish finder on the boat. Perhaps the larger mounted fish finders are overkill for your needs. Either way, portable fish finders go wherever you do and eliminate blind fishing. When it comes to portability in a fish finder, the Signstek FF-003 model is a leader in value.
The Signstek portable fish finder works much like the Deeper Smart Sonar, having a transducer that you cast out. It does not interface with wifi to your phone, but rather transmits to a small 2.4” screen. The display mounts easily or is handheld and fits well in any small vessel.
Though the Signstek FF-003 doesn’t cost much, be sure it covers your needs. For power supply they run off 4 AAA batteries which gives a limited range of 240 feet. They give a good view of the bottom up to that depth with dual 83/200 kHz frequencies. Anglers don’t care much for its fish imaging which is spotty at best. Appreciation comes from using the Signstek as a depth finder and to reveal bottom contours.
Additional features of the Signstek portable fish finder include a full color screen, fish alarm down to 99 feet, and auto zoom bottom tracking. If you have a kayak, float tube, or just need a fish finder you can bring with you, Signstek may be the right choice. Use it in fresh water or saltwater but keep it shallow and it will work fine.
Raymarine Dragonfly 7 – Best Depth Finder, Image Clarity, Navionics, & More...
Our second choice of Raymarine fish finders comes in the Dragonfly 7. The only difference between Dragonfly 5 and 7 models is a big one. The numbers refer to screen size which means you get 2 more inches with the Dragonfly 7.
The fact that models are exactly the same in all other specs means they have the same drawbacks. If dashboard space is an issue, the larger 7 inch display might be more than you need. They can mount on a kayak but the long transducer cord will still be an issue. I was thinking the Dragonfly 7 might have better screen resolution, but it’s the same as the 5 inch display at 800 x 480.
Because the Dragonfly 7 and 5 models are virtually the same, it gives us a chance to mention more features. Dragonfly fish finders work best on a separate 12 Volt Direct Current battery. Wiring them to the same marine battery you run your engines on can cause feedback that disturbs your image.
On the display you’ll have water temperature and exact depth, along with split or single imaging. Turn on the chartplotter and it’s a whole new world. Track your speed while traveling and watch your exact GPS location on Navionics maps. Compatible with most major charting companies, the maps you need are almost certainly available.
Good for narrow spectrum depths down to 900 feet and wide range to 600 feet, depth finding is rarely an issue. The Dragonfly 7 might be too much bang for your buck when you can get the 5 inch screen and cut cost. On the other hand, who likes to go small?
Garmin echoMap CHIRP – Best Kayak Fish Finder With Down Imaging & Fish ID
If you slide low across the water on a kayak and you’re a serious angler, nothing but the best kayak fish finder will do. With extremely powerful down imaging and a crystal clear 4.3 inch full color screen, the Garmin echoMap might be your choice.
The transducer provides CHIRP technology by sweeping traditional sonar beams of 50/77/200 kHz frequencies. It reads each return signal separately and translates them into images clearer than ever before. 500 watts of power pushes signals down to depths as far as 2300 feet in freshwater and 1100 in salt.
On top of that, the transducer sweeps a second beam that Garmin calls ClearVu. These high range frequencies of 260/455/800 reveal incredible separation of fish making exact identification possible.
The down view imaging creates spectacular imagery but lacks the range of side view fish finders. Fortunately, the Garmin echoMap 4.3 inch screen comes with their Sidevu feature if you care to invest a bit more cash. Saltwater kayakers won’t find mapping on coastal areas, but the unit is preloaded with over 17,000 maps of freshwater lakes.
The smallest 4.3 inch Garmin display fits kayaks or float tubes perfectly and still offers a split screen option. Anglers can look further into echoMap models which also come in 5 inch square, 5 x 7, and 5 x 9 extra wide screens. Reaching depths that few personal fish finders do with clear imagery, the Garmin echoMap CHIRP 43dv is worthy of your attention.
Lowrance HDS-9 Gen2 – Most Powerful Fish Finder With Touchscreen, Insight Navionics, 2 Transducers, & Much More!
The Lowrance HDS-9 Gen2 fish finder has the largest number of complex features on our list, and using them is as easy as pie. Touchscreen controls with 5 push buttons gives the Lowrance Gen2 one of the most user friendly displays available.
The HDS-9 Gen2 model has a high def 9 inch screen. It sits in the middle of larger 12 inch and smaller 7 inch models. The list and explanation of features goes on and on, but let’s look at key components. Dual transducers top the highlights with an incredible ability to scan the water.
One transducer uses broadband high, middle, and low frequencies of either 50/200 or 83/200 kHz. It can reach depths of 3,000 feet. The second transducer puts out high frequency signals of 455/800 kHz and reveals picture like details 180 degrees around the vessel.
Lowrance HDS-9 Gen2 fish finders leave little room for criticism. If anything, the price may place them outside many an angler’s budget. If you’re willing to save or splurge, they offer everything you can imagine. 500 watts max power, the most advanced map creation, GPS with strong antenna, and online cloud charting options scratch the surface of Gen2 capabilities.
Lowrance HDS-7 Gen3 Insight – Best Touch Screen & Built In “Insight” Charts
Back to back Lowrance products offer double the choice in excellence! Taking the competitive edge against all our fish finder reviews is the Gen3 Insight, the clear winner of our Editor’s Choice award. The Gen3 Insight stands out as the newest and most advanced Lowrance fish finder.
You can purchase the 9 inch display for about the same cost as the same size Gen2 fish finder. However, choosing the Gen3 HDS-7 (7 inch screen) gives you better technology and shaves hundreds off the cost. When it comes to value, that’s a no brainer.
The big difference between Gen2 and Gen3 Lowrance models shows in their sonar capacities. Take away having to mount two transducers and get better performance out of just one. Gen3 gets to the same max 3,000 foot depths with a broadband sounder while also scanning high frequency sound. It adds CHIRP, which sends a wider range of frequencies and provides even clearer results. All with one transducer.
The only real detractors of the Gen3 HDS-7 Insight fish finder are the cost and the potential for overkill. A model this advanced might be way more than you need, especially for float tubes and kayaks. On the other hand, money might not be an issue and the larger 9 or 12 inch screens do cry out for attention.
Advanced map creation that allows you to lay down clear bottom imagery taken from your own fish finder is a huge option. The preloaded lake and coastal maps make it a navigation machine, not to mention a stronger 10Hz GPS antenna. You get the best of all worlds with the Lowrance Gen3 HDS-7 Insight, the best overall fish finder out of all 9 reviews.
Humminbird Helix 5 SI – Top Value GPS & Fish Finder Combo
A 5 inch display screen is neither too big nor so small that you couldn’t tell a fish from a piece of dirt. With pixels at 800H x 480V, 256 colors, and backlighting, the Helix 5 inch screen comes to life.
If you want absolute clarity on your display, CHIRP technology is the way to go. Part of the great value of the Humminbird Helix 5 is that it leaves out CHIRP, but still brings an incredible picture. It does so by putting out a very strong 500 watts of power into 200/83/455 kHz transducer frequencies. The side imaging option gives you a 180 degree view around the boat. Set the display to split image to see both sides and straight down at the same time.
One drawback of such a powerful fish finder is its lack of map creation software. It does come with top of the line GPS chartplotting and has built in maps, but you won’t be making maps with this model.
Overall, the Humminbird Helix 5 SI GPS delivers if you want chartplotting and fish finding only. When using it for that purpose, its superior screen is top in its class. It might be lacking for some anglers that want to build maps or prefer CHIRP technology. Be aware that there is a cheaper CHIRP model with down imaging only. You can also move up to the G2 Helix 5 at additional cost, which offers CHIRP and side imaging technology.
The 2018 Best Fish Finder Windup
This buyer’s guide with fish finder reviews goes into a variety of complex information about fish finders. Our intention and hope is that the explanations simplify the complexity of the subject, and help you find the best fish finder to fit your needs. After reviewing all the facts, one thing is certain. Fish finders do not come in a one size fits all category.
The models are large or small, simple or packed with features. The best fish finders sell quite cheap, or add up quick. You must decide what display size to get and whether you want a high pixel screen. GPS and sonar don’t always go together, though they are recommended. It’s great to have chartplotting so you can mark good fishing spots, but do you need to create maps?
These are only a few of the questions that arise for the best fish finder. Start looking at CHIRP, broadband, and power ratings for even more decisions. It all depends on your needs, your budget, your desires, or perhaps a mix of all three. We’re always open to honest feedback. All your thoughts or questions are welcome.